Day 89: Betws-y-Coed to Bangor

‘That’s how all the cities are changing now. … But there’s nothing you can do. Things change.’ – Mike, Llangefni.

Snowdonia is a wonderful place. Visit it if you can, explore by foot or pedal its gentle heights, mapping with your eyes how undulating fields become forests that give way to an explosion of jagged rocks strewn up and down peaks, clustering in valleys with the heather and bracken. There’s a few sheep ensuring that the grasses are kept short, but in certain moments it’s absent of life and just lovely.

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Day 88: Chirk to Betws-y-Coed

‘What do people do for work around here?’
‘… Jobs.’ – Without irony, outside the Eagles Hotel, Corwen.

I awake in Chirk Bank, a small hamlet just on the inside of the English border. It’s a cosy place that my parnter’s aunt and uncle have here, and I’ve been made to feel welcome. Sandra’s given me a crash course in the Welsh language.

Bore da, a chroeso i Gymru! Mae’n debyg y dylwn ddysgu ychydig o ymadroddion, ond yn eu ynganu un anodd iawn.

I cheated a bit here and used an online translator, but just consider those words. If you have no Welsh, take a moment to attempt to pronounce them. So different does the language and appear, and flowing and unusual its sound, yet it’s the tongue of England’s neighbour.

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Days 56-57: Highlands by hire car

‘Life doesn’t give you a user manual’ – Christy, Fort William.

Christy and I awake refreshed in our chintzy bed and breakfast on the shores of Fort William. The hotel’s a dive, and we’re both restless to escape out of the town in some way. But with a sprained ankle, Christy’s not able to ride any bicycle. Walking will only get us so far, and we’ve drunkenly lost ourselves in the wilds of Glen Nevis a previous night. The rain is still insisting on its responsibility to soak we weary humans to the skin, and fierce winds are affecting nearby boats.

Over a Scotch breakfast (like a full English, but with potato scones, black pudding and Irn Bru…) we decide to hire a car. It’s the one way of leaving the town and exploring and, besides, it can cheekily double-up as a cheap place to sleep. With that plan, we phone around til we find a cheap enough car on the outskirts of Fort Bill. It’s strangely exciting. Forget those steep mountains and hills, forget the bloody awful weather… none of these can restrict our striving to explore these landscapes. With the most basic of plans to head north, we decide to get lost on a spectacular level, to find and immerse ourselves in some rocky and remote wilderness. With provisions packed, we head out onto the open road.

Whoosh! It’s a brand new car and my driver handles it with some speed. It takes getting used to. Twenty miles, the subject of two to three hours’ meditative cycling and day-dreaming, expires in equivalent minutes. But it’s an opportunity to test how these landscapes feel at different speeds. Much of the north-west Highlands seemed like it would be as beautiful in a car. There’s a vicarious pleasure in reading about another’s travails and toils breaking their bicycles up the steepest of hills and most remote of midgey crannies. Surely in a car it’ll be much easier?

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